Articles | Volume 8, issue 4
Earth Syst. Dynam., 8, 977–1007, 2017

Special issue: Social dynamics and planetary boundaries in Earth system...

Earth Syst. Dynam., 8, 977–1007, 2017

ESD Reviews 08 Nov 2017

ESD Reviews | 08 Nov 2017

Towards representing human behavior and decision making in Earth system models – an overview of techniques and approaches

Finn Müller-Hansen1,2, Maja Schlüter3, Michael Mäs4, Jonathan F. Donges1,3, Jakob J. Kolb1,2, Kirsten Thonicke1, and Jobst Heitzig1 Finn Müller-Hansen et al.
  • 1Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Member of the Leibniz Association, P.O. Box 60 12 03, 14412 Potsdam, Germany
  • 2Department of Physics, Humboldt University Berlin, Newtonstraße 15, 12489 Berlin, Germany
  • 3Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B, 114 19 Stockholm, Sweden
  • 4Department of Sociology and ICS, University of Groningen, Grote Rozenstraat 31, 9712 TG Groningen, the Netherlands

Abstract. Today, humans have a critical impact on the Earth system and vice versa, which can generate complex feedback processes between social and ecological dynamics. Integrating human behavior into formal Earth system models (ESMs), however, requires crucial modeling assumptions about actors and their goals, behavioral options, and decision rules, as well as modeling decisions regarding human social interactions and the aggregation of individuals' behavior. Here, we review existing modeling approaches and techniques from various disciplines and schools of thought dealing with human behavior at different levels of decision making. We demonstrate modelers' often vast degrees of freedom but also seek to make modelers aware of the often crucial consequences of seemingly innocent modeling assumptions.

After discussing which socioeconomic units are potentially important for ESMs, we compare models of individual decision making that correspond to alternative behavioral theories and that make diverse modeling assumptions about individuals' preferences, beliefs, decision rules, and foresight. We review approaches to model social interaction, covering game theoretic frameworks, models of social influence, and network models. Finally, we discuss approaches to studying how the behavior of individuals, groups, and organizations can aggregate to complex collective phenomena, discussing agent-based, statistical, and representative-agent modeling and economic macro-dynamics. We illustrate the main ingredients of modeling techniques with examples from land-use dynamics as one of the main drivers of environmental change bridging local to global scales.

Short summary
Today, human interactions with the Earth system lead to complex feedbacks between social and ecological dynamics. Modeling such feedbacks explicitly in Earth system models (ESMs) requires making assumptions about individual decision making and behavior, social interaction, and their aggregation. In this overview paper, we compare different modeling approaches and techniques and highlight important consequences of modeling assumptions. We illustrate them with examples from land-use modeling.
Final-revised paper